Community Post: Don’t Wait to Play

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The Jemez Mountains of New Mexico are scented of old pinion, young fir and the sweet, refreshing wetness of the Rio Las Vacas. My young family traveled there a few years ago to join my recently retired parents for a camping trip.

We set up camp and rigged our fishing poles. Stream fishing is a little like a treasure hunt. Plopping your bait in one promising hole, then moving on to another and the next in hopes of hooking a German Brown or Rainbow trout leads you a mile downstream before you realize how far you’ve gone.

I was on mom duty. Any fishing I’d do would be pulling my little one out of the river. Bella desperately wanted to catch a “fish-friend,” and we finally did: a four-inch baby trout. She gripped that little fish, talked to him, kissed his silvery snout and loved that thing to its death.

I was tired, and my back ached. I suggested we take Fish Friend back to camp, expecting to find my mother there assembling sandwiches for lunch.

We rounded the bend of the river and I found my mom, standing on a rock in the middle of the river, her sneakered shoe holding down her catch, laughing.

“I won’t take them off the hook myself,” she smiled, “I’m waiting for Dad.”

Even when we lived a quarter-mile from a lake, I had never seen my mom toss in a line or sit back with the setting sun on her cheeks. I have a copy of an old black and white photo—taken sometime in the early fifties—of my parents wearing fishing galoshes and holding poles, smiling. But I’ve never seen her actually fish. Sporting. My mom.

I had moved with my parents far away from the rest of my six siblings my senior year of high school. In our new city, I was surprised to see my parents could enjoy themselves, make friends, take in a ball game or a day trip to Monterey. I watched my mother become fresh and gay with life again.

I didn’t know then, what over forty years of parenting and thirty years of full-time ministry cost my mom. I knew her stern looks, her words of caution, admonition and instruction, the clatter of the pans as she cooked dinner, her clear soprano voice singing hymns. I knew her jagged-edged and angry silence.

But I never witnessed her relax near the border of fun until I was a teenager and then only glimpses of it, like spring sunshine playing hide-and-seek with the clouds.

“Here,” I smiled back at Mom, “You take Bella and her fish, and I’ll take care of your pole.”

Mom, almost seventy, took her granddaughter’s hand and picked her way out of the stream, and they disappeared beyond the trees.

I stretched my back, thankful for the moment’s rest. The southwestern sun shone on my face. I raised my cheeks to meet its warmth. The trout flinched beneath my shoe and the music of the water played the melody to a syncopated rustling of leaves and the occasional chirp of bird.

I’m not good at game night. I don’t do sports. But, I fish. I laugh loud and often. Sometimes, I jump on my own kitchen chairs and swing imaginary light-sabers with my boys. I tell corny jokes. I drive a red convertible and lower the canvas top and blast my music. I dance. I have water fights in the lake with my four kids. I work.

I stop. I don't wait to play.

Alyssa Santos writes at Alyssa Santos, Rocks.Roots.Wings. with vulnerability and grace, encouraging readers to pause in the beauty and freedom of the gospel of Jesus. She's a lover of words and of the Word, a survivor, and introvert and a cheerleader. She regularly drinks Ethiopian coffee and writes for the partnership ministry New Covenant Foundation that supports church planting and health education in that country.

The Work of Play

Play is not just for kids. If you are under pressure in your work, a spirit of play can lead to balance, creativity, and good health. In our hyper-productive world, we need to learn how to play again—at home, on the job, and even in worship. This article is part of our series The Work of Play. If someone you know needs to rediscover the joy of play, invite them to the conversation on The High Calling.